Nicole Baart's debut novel, After the Leaves Fall, has been enthusiastically received and I for one, am eagerly anticipating the sequel, Summer Snow to be released by Tyndale in May, 2008. I was delighted when Nicole was able to fit in this interview and share with us her thoughts:~
Why Christian fiction?
Honestly, I never set out to write Christian fiction. I'm a Christian and I write fiction, but I didn't intend to write a specifically Christian fiction novel. In fact, I was quite convinced that the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) market would not be interested in my books. However, the Lord presented me with an amazing opportunity--it was practically gift-wrapped and handed to me on a silver platter--and I simply couldn't pass it up. The next thing I knew I had a contract with Tyndale House Publishing and I was an author!
What consumed your time before the writing bug bit?
I was a high school English, Spanish, and ESL teacher for five years before my husband and I started our family. We were living in Canada when I became pregnant with our first son, and I took full advantage of my year paid maternity leave. I never went back to work fulltime. Now I'm the overtime mommy of two energetic little fireballs (ages 4 and 1).
You are mum to two boys and the wife of a pastor ~ how do you juggle your writing with all your other daily responsibilities?
It's really hard sometimes. My boys both need lots of time and attention--it comes with the territory when there is a toddler and a preschooler in the house. And there's always stuff going on at church. Thankfully, I've gotten better at saying “no.” Though I am incredibly busy, I am blessed to have two mornings a week when I can write unhindered. My mom takes the boys on Tuesdays and my husband watches them on Wednesdays. I get most of my writing done in those two, five-hour time blocks every week.
What writing project are you working on now?
I am working on a third book that is a real stretch for me. In some ways I feel like After the Leaves Fall was my chance to practice character development, and Summer Snow (the sequel) was a study in plot. Now, I'm writing a complex novel told in three perspectives and spanning thirty years. It's very real and vivid to me, but getting all these intersecting ideas and complicated plot lines down on paper is a challenge. I'm having a ton of fun, but I am definitely being challenged, too.
This book, tentatively titled The Moments Between, is about a thirty-year-old accountant who is about to give up everything. From the synopsis: “Abigail Bennett is driven. She's ambitious, self-possessed, and completely in control of her life. She is the perfect neighbor, daughter, and businesswoman. Nothing can shake the strong foundation of the world she has constructed for herself. Until the unexpected happens, and Abigail is pushed to the brink of something she has never experienced before: obsession.” The book deals with suicide, mental illness, and the complexities of reconciling your preconceived ideas of right and wrong with reality. Although it is a redemptive story, and although I think a Christian worldview is evident throughout, the book is not overtly Christian.
Tell us how you felt/what you did when you found out you had a contract for After the Leaves Fall
I think I went just a little bit nuts. I've wanted to be an author since I was five years old and I just could not believe that my lifelong dream was finally coming true. I still don't believe it!
On After the Leaves Fall...
Please tell us the inspiration behind this novel and its sequel
After the Leaves Fall sort of came out of nowhere. Months before I began the book, I did a short writing exercise that absolutely haunted me. I couldn't get the scene out of my mind. So when I was presented with the opportunity to get a manuscript directly into the hands of an editor, I hauled out that old piece and started to flesh out the story. Julia and her life grew out of that one small scene. Consequently, that section still exists in its entirety--it's the first chapter in Leaves.
Julia is such a lost soul who generates great empathy from readers (well, this one anyway!) ~ how did you manage to do that so well?
I don't know! Am I allowed to say that? J I wish I had a step-by-step process to follow that I could duplicate for subsequent books, but I think that what happened with Julia was, quite simply, I fell in love with her. Her character was very real to me from the beginning, and the more I wrote, the more I got to know her. The better I knew her, the stronger my feelings became for her, and the stronger I felt for her the more able I was to see all the nuances of her soul. It might be a bit cliché to say, but Julia really came alive for me.
What was your favourite scene to write?
The introductory scene was one of my favourites, but I also loved writing the final chapter. I'm a poet at heart, and when I wrote those last few pages it felt like writing poetry to me. There are a few lines and images that I am very fond of.
I liked particularly that Parker and Thomas were neither knights in shining armour or “villains” - was this intentional?
Absolutely. I really wanted Julia's story to be true to life--and in my experience, both knights in shining armour and villains are very hard to come by. Most people are a bewildering mix of kind and cruel, predictable and impulsive, beautiful and downright ugly. We are capable of doing wonderful things and, sadly, we are equally as able to do horrible things. I wanted that to be evident in my book. And more than anything, I didn't want my readers to love or hate Parker or Thomas. Instead, I wanted them to struggle with the tension of knowing that both of these men had the potential to be amazing but were, like the rest of us, flawed and broken.
Julia experiences ongoing losses throughout the story but glimpses of hope are sprinkled throughout the pages ~ did you create Julia around the theme or vice versa?
That's a tough question, though when I think back to writing Leaves it seems that they (character and theme) came hand in hand. I wanted to write about beauty in reality and hope in the midst of chaos… For me, Julia was the perfect character to express the things that I wanted to convey.
Any ideas who you might cast in a movie of After the Leaves Fall?
What a fun question! My dad jokes that he wants to be Robert Redford and my mom wants to be Diane Lane. I find that hilarious since technically they're not even in the book. Hmmm… as for Julia, I don't know. I think she'd have to be plain but pretty, maybe a little tomboyish and shy, and young looking but with wise eyes. That's a tall order to fill! Hollywood might have to find some sweet nobody from a small town and make her a star. J
What impact do you hope this book has upon the reader?
I had a very specific intent in mind when I started Leaves. I think that so often in our world today we are told that we are not enough, not enough, not enough. Not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, godly enough, and the list goes on and on. I wanted Julia's story to full of flaws and brokenness, but I wanted people to see the beauty in it anyway. God loves us as we are, flaws, foibles, faults and all--we don't have to be perfect for Him to make something beautiful out of our messed up lives. As readers watch Julia's life unfold, I hope that they can find the beauty in their own lives, the hope in the middle of their own despair.
On Matters Personal...
Do you read much yourself? If so, some favourites, please?
I read every day. Nearly every year I reread my favourite Jane Austen novels, and I keep Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet on my bedside stand at all times. Also, my husband is constantly giving me theological books. Brennan Manning, Robb Bell, CS Lewis, and Donald Miller are a few of my favourites. Other than that, I like to keep current with the latest literary releases. I watch the lists for the Booker Prize, the Governor Generals award, and the Pulitzer. Oh, and I'm an avid Harry Potter fan!
What are you reading at the moment?
Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. It's about faith and art, and I'm just loving it.
Favourite movie and favourite line from a movie?
My favourite line from a movie comes from The Simpsons Movie. “Spider pig, spider pig, does whatever a spider pig does.” I love The Simpsons (the TV show) and for some reason that line just cracks me up. My brother sings it to me and I die laughing every time.
Who inspires you?
My family. They are all so amazing that (whether they know it or not) they are constantly encouraging me to be more than I was yesterday in every area of my life. I know I don't always succeed, but I do try.
Please tell us a little about your family
I've been married for almost nine years to the love of my life, Aaron Baart. He is a pastor, and I think he is so cool. He's funny and compassionate and amazing. We have two boys. Isaac is four, and though he looks like Aaron, he has my creativity. He has had an imaginary friend, Jacob Tall as a Tree, for almost a year now. Jacob is so real to Isaac that he is practically our third child. Our other son (the real one!) is Judah. He is 18 months old and he was born in Ethiopia. We were able to travel to Africa and bring him home when he was 4 ½ months old. He is pure joy! Our boys are best friends and it never ceases to thrill me when I see the relationship that they have formed. Though I love my three (four?) boys, I'd also love to have another girl in the family! By birth or by adoption, we hope to see that happen someday.
Please share some of your faith journey...
I grew up in a wonderful, God-fearing family and I've been a Christian my whole life. Though I don't have a glamorous conversion experience, I can say that my relationship with God has been a very full and exciting love story complete with heart-wrenching “break-ups” and tender reunions. This romance is my life, and the Lord is no less real in my every day than my husband or kids.
Some essential Aussie questions
When/if you make the trip Down Under what do you want to see first? A platypus or a koala?
Barrier Reef or Uluru (Ayers Rock)?
You are visiting Australia ~ do you say yes or no to some vegemite on toast?!
I have friends from Australia and New Zealand and I have already tried vegemite on toast. My friend Mary calls it the ultimate comfort food. I'm afraid I have to call it: Ewwww! Sorry!
Well, I suppose I should shamelessly plug Summer Snow, the sequel to After the Leaves Fall. It comes out this spring and is already available for pre-order on Amazon and other outlets. I had so much fun writing it--I was really blessed to be able to tell more of Julia's story.
Thanks so much for having me, Rel! I do hope I make it to Australia someday, and if I do, I'd love to meet you. Maybe we could skip the vegemite and just go out for a coffee or something. He-he-he!
Thanks Nicole for the lovely insight into your world!
Yep, if we can skip the coffee as well as the vegemite and have a fruit smoothie instead, you have a date - LOL!!